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DA Hopes More Scam Victims Come Forward

Local Business Owner Held on $1 Million Bond

 By Jamie Nash

 

CONROE, TX – Montgomery County Precinct 3 Deputy Constables arrested a local businessman Monday, after nearly two dozen people came forward seeking justice, according to Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Rob Freyer.

Mark Steven Mills, 56, is charged with first-degree felony Aggregate Theft, more than $300,000 in the 221st District Court. He was booked into the Montgomery County Jail in Conroe. Bond was set at $1 million.

Mills owned St. Croix Pools, last located on the I-45 feeder north of the FM 1097 exit in Willis. Freyer says Mills “basically gave people the impression he could dig a pool, and make it look all nice and pretty,” but the complainants say Mills misrepresented his services and was paid large sums of money for services that were alleged to have been performed poorly or incorrectly, and in some cases, complainants allege Mills failed to complete projects for which his was paid. The alleged victims named in the complaint live in Montgomery County, Polk County, Liberty County and Walker County.

“They had been scammed and ripped off by this defendant,” Freyer said. “Turns out, that according to what our witnesses reported, and what our investigation uncovered, (Mills) wasn’t very good at keeping his word.”

Freyer and Assistant District Attorney Gabrielle Becker are working with Detective Jared Tunstall, of the Montgomery County Precinct 3 Constable’s Office. On August 23, Tunstall met with between 15 and 20 people, each of whom stated they contracted with Mills, representing St. Croix Pools, to install pools in their backyards. According to the Complaint, all of them allege Mills promised completed pools, even providing renderings to their specifications, as well as contracts and schedules to begin the work. The complainants had made payments to Mills’ company “up to a few days prior to the company shutting down,” the Complaint states.

A Liberty County man says he met with Mills November 20, 2020. They discussed pool construction, and on December 4, he received a proposal. Construction of his pool began two days later. By mid-December, the man says he had made two payments to Mills’ St. Croix Pools, totaling $56,000. By January 11, 2021, the complainant claims his newly constructed pool was “floating out of the ground”. Mills sent a crew to correct the problem, and the tile was completed on March 18. Three days later, the complainant paid Mills an additional $16,048, for a total of $72,048.

Less than a month after the final payment, the Liberty County man says the plumbing subcontractor who worked on the pool threatened to file a lien against the man’s home. The complainant alleges a myriad of issues with his pool, including leaks, and cracked and missing plaster.  He says on June 18, 2021, he received an email from Mills stating the only way to correct the issues would be to start over and rebuild the pool, but he would honor the warranty. The complainant says the pool has not been repaired or rebuilt and his money has not been returned.

A Montgomery County man talked to Mills in August of 2020, and paid Mills / St. Croix Pools $46,000 for construction to begin February 5, 2021. He states he paid $15,000 on February 7, 2021 for a “change order” and then $34,500 on February 11, 2021 for “shotcrete” work. On March 23, the complainant states he paid Mills $22,986.84 for tile. When the pool was not completed on time, the complainant says Mills blamed weather, labor shortage, material shortage, and even claimed an employee had been stealing from him, which was also a supposed reason for delay of completion of the pool. The Complaint says the dissatisfied customer paid Mills / St. Croix Pools a total of $103,486.84 “for a pool that was not completed.” 

Another Montgomery County resident told investigators he met with Mills and another man on March 10, 2021 regarding construction of a pool in his backyard. Mills and company presented a proposal, dated March 12, 2021. The eager customer then secured a home equity loan on March 27, 2021. On May 4, 2021, the man states he paid Mills / St. Croix Pools $31,126.52, and $23,344.89 on May 13, 2021. He says he made a third payment of $15,563 on July 21, 2021. The customer says he spoke with Mills on August 7, 2021, asking how much longer it would take to complete his pool. He claims Mills told him the man’s pool was (Mills’) priority. However, just two days later, the customer received information indicating St. Croix Pools “had been shut down.” Adding insult to alleged injury, on August 19, 2021, the customer received a request for payment from an electrical subcontractor who hadn’t been paid and hadn’t been able to reach Mills / St. Croix Pools. As of the filing of the Complaint, the customer was missing plaster, and pool lights, and his cool deck and pool equipment hookup hadn’t been completed, despite having paid a total of $70,034.67 to Mills / St. Croix Pools.

A third Montgomery County complainant states he signed a contract with Mills / St. Croix Pools on March 29, 2021 to construct a backyard pool, at a cost of $58,990.65 The complainant says the “shotcrete” was completed August 5, 2021. He says Mills then demanded an additional $9,698.12 on August 9, 2021, and the customer complied. The man says he learned St. Croix Pools shut down two days later. As of the filing of the Complaint, the customer was missing electrical, coping, plaster, and the pool’s pump system. He says it will cost an additional $31,000 to complete the unfinished pool, which has already cost him $53,091.59.

A fourth Montgomery County resident said on April 5, 2021, he spoke with a woman who represented St. Croix Pools, for the purpose of finalizing his pool plan. He signed the final proposal electronically April 16, 2021 and attended a “pre-construction meeting” on April 28, 2021. Excavation for the pool was initiated on May 6, 2021. The man states he became frustrated with St. Croix Pools’ lack of communication and repeatedly made failed attempts to contact Mills directly. Mills’ voicemail was full each time, and the customer was unable to leave a message. On August 12, 2021, the man was notified the business had closed, via a text from the woman with whom he first spoke. She also reportedly told him she hadn’t been paid $45,000 she was owed in commissions. The man again tried and failed in reaching Mills. On August 18, 2021, the customer received a letter stating Mills / St. Croix Pools had filed bankruptcy. This customer states he paid a total of $57,081 for a pool that was never completed.

A fifth Montgomery County resident states on April 8, 2021, he contracted with Mills and St. Croix Pools to build a backyard pool. On April 22, 2021, he paid Mills / St. Croix Pools $32,764.36. Excavation began May 14, 2021. Three days later, the customer made a payment of $24,573.27. On June 4, 2021, “shotcrete” began, and June 24, 2021, a final payment was made of $16,382.18 for tile and coping. The customer paid a total of $73,719.90 for a pool that was never completed. Another company has since estimated repairs and completion of the pool will cost between $43,000 and $53,000.

A sixth Montgomery County resident contracted with Mills / St. Croix Pools on April 11, 2021 to build a backyard pool. The complainant claims part of Mills’ “sales pitch” was the statement that St. Croix Pools was a “large pool company”, did most of the work themselves, owned their own “shotcrete” truck and could complete the project in only six weeks. The customer paid $34,927.27 on April 27, 2021 and the “shotcrete” was completed on April 29, 2021. On May 5, 2021, he paid $36,195.97, and on June 24, 2021, he paid $17,463.95. As of the filing of the Complaint, the customer had paid a total of $78,587.23 to St. Croix Pools and was still missing plumbing, electrical, pebble teck, and decking. Another company estimated the cost to finish the pool project would be $30,000, provided there were no further complications.

A seventh Montgomery County resident contracted with St. Croix Pools for a backyard pool on April 15, 2021. On June 8, 2021, the customer said he paid the company $21,183.46. Excavation and “shotcrete” were completed. On June 25, 2021, he paid St. Croix Pools $21,183.46. St. Croix then contacted the customer stating the pool construction would take six to eight months to complete, as opposed to their original estimate of only six weeks. On August 11, 2021, the customer learned St. Croix Pools was closed. He states St. Croix Pools caused the destruction of his fence, broke bricks on his house, cut and removed electrical wiring and left the yard “completely unleveled.” The dissatisfied customer estimates the cost to finish his pool at $50,000.  He paid a total of $42,366.92 for a pool that was never completed.

An eighth Montgomery County resident contracted with St. Croix Pools for a backyard pool on May 13, 2021 and paid $15,000 on May 27, 2021 to “hold their excavation date of May 31, 2021”. However, he paid $31,250, and excavation didn’t begin until June 30, 2021. The Complaint offers no explanation for that delay. On July 9, 2021, the customer paid an additional $31,250. He said some of the plumbing for the pool was completed on August 6, 2021, but on August 11, 2021, he received notice the pool company was closing. The electrical work was not completed, nor was the tile, coping, pool pumps, decking and water features. He says he paid St. Croix Pools a total of $77,500 for a pool that was never completed. The estimated cost to complete the planned pool is $84,000 to $97,000. That amount doesn’t include the original planned added features, which included an outdoor kitchen, extended patio, and a roof extension. The customer also noted the company that provided the pool completion estimate was unable to offer a warranty, since they had not done all the construction.

A ninth Montgomery County resident said on May 6, 2021, she paid $27,701.63 to St. Croix Pools to begin backyard pool construction. On May 13, 2021, she said she paid $10,000 and then paid $10,766.22 on June 28, 2021. She paid a total of $48,467.85 to Mills and St. Croix Pools for a pool that was never completed.

A Walker County resident contracted with Mills and St. Croix Pools for a backyard pool on June 17, 2021. On June 21, 2021, he made his first payment of $40,739.49, and then on June 30, 2021, he paid $30,354.62. The customer said Mills went to his house on July 17, 2021 and as the customer began expressing concerns, he says Mills assured him everything was “fine” and changed the subject. This dissatisfied customer claims that because of St. Croix Pools, he has damage to his siding, windows, flower beds and driveway. As of the filing of the Complaint, the customer said the pool company hadn’t completed the tile, or coping. He says he paid $71,094.11 for a pool that was not completed.

A tenth Montgomery County resident contracted with St. Croix Pools for a backyard pool after a representative told her theirs was a “vertically integrated company” and claimed they didn’t use subcontractors. On June 18, 2021, she paid St. Croix Pools $20,000. Excavation was complete by July 14, 2021, when she paid another $19,044.10. Her final check, for $29,283.08 bounced. She says Mills contacted her regarding the bad check on July 29, 2021, stating he would stop the “shotcrete” work if he didn’t receive the final payment. She says Mills then followed her to the bank and “stood over her as she obtained a cashier’s check”. The total amount she paid was $68,327.18, and the pool was never finished. Another company estimated the cost of finishing the job at nearly $34,000.

Another Walker County resident contracted with Mills / St. Croix Pools for a backyard pool on June 22, 2021. Excavation began on July 14, 2021 and on July 15, 2021, he paid the company $23,912.32. On July 23, 2021, he paid the pool company $17,934.24. This customer dealt with two representatives of the pool company, who later informed him they were no longer working with the company, as of mid-July, 2021. On August 11, 2021, the customer says he was contacted by a subcontractor demanding payment for work on his pool. As of the filing of the Complaint, this customer had paid St. Croix Pools a total of $41,846.56 for a pool that was not completed.

A Polk County resident reported contacting Mills about a backyard pool in May of 2021. She noted that Mills told her he was “an honest contractor.” On July 7, 2021, she paid Mills / St. Croix Pools $29,618.64 and then on July 16, 2021, she made a payment of $23,338.98, for a total of $52,957.62. Her pool has not been completed.

An eleventh Montgomery County resident met with a St. Croix Pools representative on April 17, 2021 regarding construction of a backyard pool. She signed and returned the contract on May 7, 2021, and excavation began on July 20, 2021. On July 26, 2021, the customer paid the pool company $34,040.84. On July 31, 2021, the pool steel was completed. On August 10, 2021, the customer said she attempted to contact Mills and was unable to reach him. She tried again the next day with no success. On August 12, 2021, the customer received confirmation the company was no longer in business. She paid a total of $34,040.84 for a pool that was never completed.

A twelfth Montgomery County resident met with a representative of St. Croix Pools regarding a backyard pool in January of 2021. The customer says he was told St. Croix was the best pool company because they owned their own “shotcrete” company and would complete the job in only six to eight weeks. He signed the contract on March 25, 2021 and on April 9, 2021, paid the pool company $39,975. Excavation began that day, he said. On April 26, 2021, he states he made a second payment of $29,981.28. The shotcrete work began that day, he said. However, he states the shotcrete work was “a complete disaster” and when he spoke with Mills about it, he says Mills assured him everything would be okay. The customer says he went to Mills’ office in Willis, where Mills told the man his pool was his top priority. He says Mills blamed all of the problems on a former project manager who was “stealing from him”. The customer made a third payment of $19,987.52 on June 25, 2021. The tile installation began on that day. He says he asked Mills on multiple occasions about the pool equipment and was assured it was already purchased and would be arriving. The customer stated he later got confirmation from the supplier that Mills had never ordered the equipment. This customer paid $89,943.84 for a pool that was never completed.

Information gathered through Detective Tunstall’s investigation indicated one of the reasons countless jobs were allegedly started but never finished might have been connected with Mills’ alleged failure to pay subcontractors involved in the completion of the process and their unwillingness to do more work for the pool company. Additionally, insiders indicated Mills managed to charm people into trusting him, believing the company was much larger and more reputable than it was, and continuing to pay large sums of money for work that was not completed, even when he’d failed to meet his own deadlines.

The Complaint shows Detective Tunstall has 23 complaining witnesses. The Complaint details only 16, but states all of the witnesses have similar stories regarding Mills and St. Croix Pools. As of the filing of the Complaint, the total amount Mills is alleged to have scammed from customers is $853,528.47

Freyer praised the work of the Precinct 3 Constable’s Office, fellow prosecutor Gabrielle Becker, and the Investigators with the District Attorney’s Office. He believes there may be more victims who have yet to come forward and he hopes shining a light on the current case will encourage others to come forward.

“We’re working hard,” Freyer said, “And we encourage anyone who believes they had bad business dealings, or they’ve been harmed by Mark Mills to call the Montgomery County Precinct 3 Constable’s Office, Detective Jared Tunstall at 281-364-4211.”